by Ken Leja, Sharlot Hall Museum
Holiday celebrations in Prescott date back to the first days of the town in 1863, but the community’s designation as Arizona’s Christmas City or Christmas Town began about 100 years later.
In 1962 Arizona Gov. Paul Fannin officially declared Prescott as the state’s official Christmas Town. About a quarter-century later, Gov. Rose Mofford followed up, declaring Prescott as Arizona’s Christmas City in 1989, which solidified the community’s long-time holiday image.
The community spirit for the holidays, however, dates back to the town’s founding. The first Christmas observance in the Prescott area was celebrated by Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy beside Granite Creek on Christmas morning in 1863.
The second Christmas celebration, December 1864, centered at the new Governor’s Mansion (now the centerpiece of Sharlot Hall Museum), with food for all and an American flag flying over the mansion from atop a pine tree shorn of its top-most branches.
At the first county courthouse in 1867 on Cortez Street, local holiday celebrations focused on this building, the site of many public gatherings, including church services.
With each new courthouse (1878 and late-1910s), both visitors and residents flocked to the downtown plaza to celebrate the season, decorating the plaza trees with clothing, colored paper, and the occasional flask or hanging pair of shoes.
Over the years, these festivities have grown from simple decorations and communitywide faith observances, to the contemporary displays initiated in the early 1950s. These were produced by the local chamber of commerce and augmented by numerous service clubs and individuals. The Business and Professional Women’s Club initiated the lighting of the courthouse in 1955, and the Christmas parade was added in the 1980s.
Today, Prescott has become the go-to spot for a small-town Christmas, and solidifies the community’s longtime holiday image and designation as Arizona’s Christmas City.